A Misplaced Christmas

Call me crazy, but there’s something I love about airports at Christmas in the US. The hustle and bustle. The waiting areas packed with people as you trip over luggage and have to sit on top your suitcase on the floor.  There is a sense of excitement (okay, yes sometimes also stress) in the air.  Christmas is coming. For a moment, it feels like we are all on the same team. We are all looking forward to something together.

That’s the strangest thing when I walk outside on Christmas in China. It’s like the world is going on around me—a world where Christmas is maybe a passing thought, an apple on Christmas Eve, but not an overshadowing reality.

It makes me think of the first Christmas. Our imagery of Christmas is so often homecoming—the happy glow of family and friends. (This week I listened to a Christmas version of Michael Buble’s Home by Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert—I must say tears were running down my cheeks.) But that wasn’t the reality of the first Christmas. Everyone was not excited and aware of what was going on.  A young pregnant woman and her husband had to journey away from home. They were uncomfortable, misplaced—a yet in that moment is where we see great redemption.

Here in this place, Christmas can too seem misplaced, but just as there is joy for me in crowded airport waiting areas, I can also discover joy in sharing Christmas with those who may have never really known what it is.  It’s a joy to receive giant earmuffs, fancy boxes with apples (in Chinese the word for apple “pinguo” and the word for Christmas Eve/Peaceful Night “pingan” sound similar so it is a custom to give apples on Christmas eve), and boxes of candy. It’s a joy to bake hundreds (literally over 300) cookies and get to share Christmas stories, songs and customs with students. It’s a joy to have nearly 90 students come through my house…taking about that number of selfies each with my Christmas tree.

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Christmas Open House with my students!

It’s a joy because even though Christmas can seem misplaced, I still know that true joy has come—to the whole world. And even moments where Christmas can seem misplaced, misunderstood or out of place, I’m reminded that those are the moments when redemption shines through.

Lies White Christmas Taught Me

**Warning the following post contains references to both a classic movie and Anne of Green Gables.**    

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I remember the first time I made the devastating revelation that everything in my favorite Christmas movie might not be true. No, it wasn’t when I found out that Irving Berlin is, in fact, Jewish.  It was when I decided I would try a cup of buttermilk.  In White Christmas, buttermilk is the sure fire way to get a good night sleep. The perfect accompaniment to a liverwurst sandwich (okay, my defenses should have been up when I heard liverwurst).  But one Christmas, while baking, I decided I would try a cup of buttermilk.  Let me tell you, it was not at all what I had envisioned.  I nearly spewed it out.

Yet this week, as I set out on a journey on a 15-hour sleeper train to the historic city of Xi’an, I couldn’t help but think of the glorious train ride in White Christmas.  Okay, perhaps they didn’t get beds and ended up in a city without snow, in direct contrast to what they had been happily anticipating. But that train ride sure did seem romantic (in the Anne Shirley kind of way).  And yet, as I was on the top bunk mere inches from the ceiling, with the sounds of running children, the fragrant aroma of cigarette smoke and enough consistent jerking to make me feel like I was in a car of someone learning how to drive stick shift, I realized that White Christmas once again hadn’t told the whole truth.

In all seriousness though, even though the train might not have lived up to Anne Shirley’s romantic ideal, it was quite the cultural experience.  Especially, one our return trip when we were joined by around 8 children on our beds who were happily trying to speak English to us (you are beautiful, do you like the color blue?) and we got to witness grown men wandering around in long underwear.

So while, I didn’t ever end up getting to wear a really cool red velvet dress with fur trim, it was still quite the adventure.  And then again, perhaps Bing (or Bob) didn’t lie to me, because he too, did not get any sleep on the train.